ViewRanger GPS Application Test Report by Curt Peterson (2023)

Augmentra Ltd ViewRanger Applications

Report Series byCurt Peterson

Initial Report - September 2012

Final Report - January 2013

Belowyou will find:Initial ReportContents
TesterBackground and Contact Information
ProductSpecifications
InitialImpressions
InitialReport Summary

Field Report
Sample Hike
Report Summary

ViewRanger GPS Application Test Report by Curt Peterson (1)
ViewRanger using USGS map of Mount Rainier


InitialReport

TesterBackground and ContactInformationName: CurtPeterson
Age: 40
Gender: Male
Height: 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Weight: 230 lb (104kg)
Emailaddress:curt<at>backpackgeartest<dot>org
Location: North Bend, Washington, USA

Ilive in the Cascade foothills, just 20 mi (32 km)from the Pacific Crest Trail via trails leading right from my backyard.My outdoor time in Washington is spent day hiking, backpacking,climbing, fishing and skiing everywhere from the Olympic coast torainforeststo Cascade volcanoes to dry steppe. I played football incollege and often evaluate products from a big guy perspective. Mytypical pack load ranges from 11 - 20 lbs (5-9 kg) and usuallyincludes plenty of wet weather gear.


ViewRanger Test Setup

  • iPhone Application
  • ViewRanger Website
  • Mobile App Version 3.3.0 - 3.3.3 Tested on: iPhone 4 (initial install and brief usage only) & iPhone 5 (primary test device)
  • Website Tested on: HP Notebook running Windows 8 Pro and Chrome v. 24
  • ManufacturerWebsite: www.viewranger.com
  • MSRP:Free for "Open" version that includes Open Source web maps, $14.99 USfor USA version that includes topo maps for the USA (tested)


ViewRanger InitialImpressions

ViewRangeris a UK company that makes applications with the potential tocompletely replace a fully featured GPS unit. Their ViewRangerapplications are available on the iOS, Android, and Symbianmobile platforms and as a robust website that complements the smartphoneapps with many additional features and enhancements. As with prettymuch all handheld GPS software I've used, there is a lot going on and abit of a learning curve. In this first part of my review, I'll focus onthe "big picture" of what's included, what's possible, and how I hopeto test it. In the later reports I'll focus much more on how itactually works in the real world.

MAIN FEATURES

iPhone Application
Forthis test, I'll be using ViewRanger on an iPhone 5 running iOS 6.0. Ifupdates come during the testing I'll be sure and note that in futurereports. I did download the app from Apple's App Store on my iPhone 4.The process went smoothly and in my brief tinkering it didn't have anyproblems. Just 6 days after the iPhone 5 became available, there was anupdate to ViewRanger and I promptly updated the app to the new versionthat takes advantage of the larger screen among other changes (see pic below). The app itself is only5 MB. Downloading maps for off-network use will add to that,obviously. How much extra is something that I will be sure and note in futurereports.

ViewRanger GPS Application Test Report by Curt Peterson (2)

Once on your device, it's actually relatively uncomplicated to get intousing it. There are essentially two "areas" in the app: The MAP areaand the ORGANIZER area.

The MAP area is just what would be expected -the map takes up the majority of the screen and includes a few optionslike zoom in, zoom out, center location, map tools, and a virtualbutton that jumps over to the ORGANIZER area. One of the cool features of the MAP screen is that leaving it alone forjust a few seconds tells the "buttons" to fade away and the entirescreen is filled with just the map. No clutter. No obstructions. Justmap.

On the ORGANIZER screen, a number of options become available:

  • Synchronize
  • ViewRanger Store
  • Search
  • Maps
  • Routes
  • Tracks
  • My POIs
  • BuddyBeacon
  • Trip view
  • Import / export
  • Settings
  • Help & About

I'll go intofurther detail about these areas later in the test cycle, but in the upper rightcorner is a permanent "Maps" button so it's easy to get back to the mapat any time. The navigation is, therefore, really quite simple. Twoareas are all I need to keep track of. I appreciate not having to drilldown into multiple menus or having to backtrack a lot of screens to getaround.

Initially therelooks to be some pretty neat features. The first that caught my eye isthe option to use the standard USGS topos or shaded relief maps included in the US edition that I'm testing. There area number of open source maps as well, but the topo ones are certainlythe most applicable to backpacking and definitely the most attractiveand detailed. There also is an option to download maps for offline usemaking the GPS usable when there is no cell signal.

ViewRanger GPS Application Test Report by Curt Peterson (3) ViewRanger GPS Application Test Report by Curt Peterson (4)
Organizer Area > Map Options


Web Application

Inmy opinion there are now a handful of high quality outdoor mapping appsavailable for smartphones. Besides mainstream mapping apps like GoogleMaps, I use 3 trail mapping apps on a regular basis. Each has its ownadvantages and disadvantages. Each excels in certain areas and each hasits shortcomings. Probably the most glaring missing piece for me hasbeen an integrated computer feature. Long before maps ever made theirway to phones, solid mapping software got continuously refined andbecame an almost indispensable backcountry planning tool. I love theportability and power of the smartphone apps, but they are not PCreplacements by any means. I've linked some traditional GPS units tothese PC programs, but they generally only downloaded waypoints or simplethings like that. One of the most appealing things about the ViewRangerapps is the website that goes with them.

My.ViewRanger.com offers web based route planning. It's all linked to one account tied into both the web and mobile app.The main features of the site include:

  • Routes: Search, create, view, and edit routes and tracks
  • Account: Profile, credits, devices, manage favorites and subscriptions
  • Buddy Beacon: Find other ViewRangers around the world on an interactive map
  • Shop: Purchase maps, manage credits
  • About & Support: Wiki, free phone support, Skype, instant messaging, manuals and more

Thereare a lot of possibilities here and I'm excited to discover how theyall work together. I plan on creating routes, searching and downloadingpre-planned routes, and sharing routes. I could add photos (integratedwith Twitter, Picasa, and Flickr) to createtrip journals. It's actually almost overwhelming how much there is toexplore. On top of all that there's a social community and active blog.It's a lot to try, but I'm looking forward to it!


Planned Use

Myprimary use will be for backpacking and hiking. I'll likely start withlocal routes that I know very well to tinker with features in an areawhere I can check detailed coverage and accuracy. I'll also try it on acouple bikepacking trips to see how it handles speedier endeavors. Iplan to use it both in coverage areas and out of coverage to testoffline mapping. Of course, I'll try to integrate all of this into theViewRanger website to test the synchronization and sharing features.


Initial Concerns
Myonly concerns are general - not specific to ViewRanger but applicableto all smartphone GPS apps - and include battery life and map accuracy.Initially the battery on the iPhone 5 seems pretty robust, so I'mhoping that ViewRanger is not overly power intensive and I can get gooduse out of the GPS without quickly draining the phone. I'm lessconcerned about the maps as the USGS one are included in the USAedition that I'm testing, but testing how useful the other maps - inparticular the open source maps - should be interesting.

InitialReport Summary

TheViewRanger combination of mobile and website apps is pretty thorough.It really does appear as though it could be a fantastic system forbackcountry planning. It's a lot to get into and I'm eager to get outand test it on the trails!

Final Report

Final Report

I should probably go ahead and set expectations for the remainderof this review right now. It will not be 100% comprehensive. There is justtoo much to cover. It is - without a doubt - the most robust GPSsoftware I've ever used. I've owned 4 different dedicated GPS units inthe last decade and ViewRanger is gives me more tools at a higherresolution than any of them. I've always thought there was aconsiderable hardware downgrade by going with a phone replacement, buteven that now seems to have disappeared. Perhaps there are specialapplications where a regular unit is necessary, but at this point I amtotally comfortable with my phone as my primary GPS. The information Ican get from the ViewRanger is easier to get at, much more appealing tolook at on a big high resolution screen, and the accuracy seems to beas good as anything I've used. I've been completely impressed.Overwhelmed - but impressed.

One of the first things thatimpressed me about ViewRanger is the regular updates. One of my petpeeves is apps that are put out to the world and then abandoned. In acase like this, the cost is not the issue. It's the investment of mytime to learn how to use it. I don't want to spend weeks or monthsfiguring out all the features of a complex app like this only to have tomove on to something else because the developer doesn't update the appregularly. ViewRanger is obviously very active with their product.During testing they put out 4 updates. The first was quickly put out totake advantage of the new larger screen on the iPhone 5. The other 3(see below) added new features, fixed bugs, and came at pretty regularintervals. That's the kind of support I appreciate.

ViewRangeralso is regular with e-mail updates. They aren't "spammy" - butregularly updates about deals, offers, how to use features, etc. show up in my inbox. Theyprobably averaged an email every 2 or 3 weeks to subscribers - perhapsa bit more often during the run-up to the holidays. They were not intrusive andmore often than not were actually helpful.

ViewRanger GPS Application Test Report by Curt Peterson (5) ViewRanger GPS Application Test Report by Curt Peterson (6) ViewRanger GPS Application Test Report by Curt Peterson (7)


Ratherthan scatter feature notes all over the place, I've decided to use asingle basic hike as a sample to show many of the core features andoptions. The app worked for me everywhere: on overnights, on dayhikes,even in town just playing with it. Being a software review, conditions andlocations don't seem primarily important so I think focusing on oneparticular hike to show how it works will make the most sense. I chose myregular local go-to hike up Rattlesnake Ledge (the prominent rocky peakin the photo below) because I know the trail extremely well and couldcompare the digital information with the real world information. I havelots of data on mileage, elevation, cell reception, etc. so it would bepossible for me to figure out if the software was accurate or not. Iactually hiked this trip probably 20 times during testing, but most ofthe screen shots below are from one particular trip.

ViewRanger GPS Application Test Report by Curt Peterson (8)

Iuse AT&T as a carrier, and there is nocell coverage except on the summit. This allowed me to take advantageof the offline map saving feature. It worked perfectly and actuallyloads much faster than relying on cell tower data to load maps. I hadmusic playing in the background throughout this particular hike. On the summit Ireceived multiple emails as I was back in data coverage. Despite allthese things going on, there were zerogaps in coverage and as best I can tell the phone only used roughly 3%per hour. Obviously this will vary by phone, but for me using musiccontinuously, having my cell radio trying hard to find a signal, and aGPS pulling continuous information, I'm more than satisfied. When Ibackpack I typically only use GPS to "spot check" where I am. I'mconfident I could do that a number of times on a multiday hike andbarely use any battery power. Many other features on a modernsmartphone will drain the battery well before the GPS. If I trackedroutes continuously or the trip was very long it would certainly besomething I'd have to worry about, but for my use and even continuouslong dayhike use, I have no power concerns.

Thereare a number of useful screens that can be used for location or justinformation. Here are the ones I used the most with some notes on thefeatures and how they work:

The Tracking
Thisscreen is probably what I have used the most. It's what I think of whenI want aGPS - where am I on the map? The ViewRanger traces the route withdirectional arrows showing which way I was hiking. In the picturebelow, the arrows go both directions because it was a retracedout-and-backroute. What I found really neat later was that the route tracing can bechanged. Want it a different color? No problem. Want to get rid of thedirectional arrows? No problem. I found the tracking to be veryaccurate. I've done this route literally hundreds of times and measuredit with multiple GPS units and things like pedometers. ViewRangerpegged the distance perfectly, which tells me it's not losing coverageor getting big gaps in the track. On all trips during testing my phonewas in a pocket and usually in a waterproof baggie of some sort.Reception problems appear to be of no concern.

ViewRanger GPS Application Test Report by Curt Peterson (9)


The Data
WhatI call the "Tile" screen (the ViewRanger app calls it "Trip View")serves as a sort of basic dashboard for the app. Distance, time, speed,and direction are all available at-a-glance. This page was useful onthe move, but most of the important information it contains isavailable elsewhere in the app as well. The "tiles" are live - thecompass moves with me and the speed does as well. This entire screencan be customized with 6 different layouts. Each of the boxes can becustomized with one of 28 data items, 5 graphs, or 10 dials. Onceagain, the feature set of ViewRanger is almost overwhelming. On my lastbackpacking trip I used one of the boxes to display the Solar Noon andSunset information - very useful with our super short days up here atlatitude 47 degrees.

ViewRanger GPS Application Test Report by Curt Peterson (10)


Atthe end of the hike, there is all kinds ofdata that can be minedfrom a trip. Much of it is purely numerical, but there are also graphicdisplays of different aspects of the hike. Graphs for Speed, Distance,Altitude, and GPS Altitude are all created behind the scenes. I don'tneed to tell it to "record" them - it just does. It also tracks all theusual information: Date, Distance, Time, Speed, etc. There are optionsto sync it to my ViewRanger account (available on the website), exportit to cloud services like Dropbox, and more.

ViewRanger GPS Application Test Report by Curt Peterson (11) ViewRanger GPS Application Test Report by Curt Peterson (12)
ViewRanger GPS Application Test Report by Curt Peterson (13) ViewRanger GPS Application Test Report by Curt Peterson (14)


Everytime I used ViewRanger, there was alwaysmore to discover. I've used it extensively and I still feel like I'vebarely scratched the surface. There are totally unique features - to meat least - that I've never seen on another device or app. Night Visionsetting puts a red hue over everything to preserve night vision. Thereare Power Save modes to preserve battery life. I can decide how often Iwant it to pinpoint my location based on distance or time. There arelocation arrival alarms that can be set to go off at various distancesbefore arriving at the actual location. Maps can be set to rotate withthe landscape. Map files can be automatically backed up to Dropboxwithout having to go in and remember to do it. I've used 4 differentpopular dedicated GPSunits over the last decade and none even come close to the feature setthis app has. I believe the price is truly absurd when compared to adedicated GPS unit. Ofcourse this assumes one has a smartphone, but even a cheap off contractsmartphone bought on eBay with this app would be cheap and powerfulsetup. A backcountry e-reader, camera,music player, app engine and a supremely capable GPS in one smalldevice seems like ano-brainer.The Website
Themy.viewranger.com website works much as would be expected. I can loginand go see my tracks and routes right there. It has much more of asocial focus than a trip planner focus in my opinion. Also, for someodd reason, it's painfully slow. I have blazing fast Internetconnections at both home and work and in both places the website isconsistently slow to load. Every click seems to bring about a wait. Thephone app is so capable that I ended up rarely using the website, butit's nice to know it's there and I look forward to added capabilitiesas both the app and the website mature.
Summary
Iam verypleased with the ViewRanger app. There are a lot of very solid GPS appsavailable for smartphones, but this one isdefinitely my new go-toapp for hikes andbackpacking trips. There are prettier apps and more popular apps, butof the 6 iPhone apps I have on my phone right now, none are morecapable than ViewRanger. It doesn't always have the most elegant UI,but it's astoundinglyfunctional and feature rich. It is also very stable - I didnotnote a single crash during testing. It had nomissed tracks. It had no hiccups despite recording a track whileplaying musicin the background and pulling data. I've been really, really impressed.I've readabout backpackers carrying lightweight tablets for using ViewRanger(it comes in Android as well) and having great success. I would neverhaveconsidered that before, but now it seems like a totally viable option.ViewRanger on a 7 inch (18 cm) high resolution screen would be a trulyamazing backcountry mapping setup.

After4months I feel like I've barely started to explore ViewRanger. A trulycomprehensivereview of every feature would be thousands of words. My recommendationsis to simply try it out. The basic model is free! The paid app deliversbetter maps, but the general "feel" can be discovered with no risk.It's simply incredible as far as I'm concerned. So far it's doneeverything I've askedof it and more.

Summary Pros:

  • ViewRangeris overwhelmingly powerful. Maybe there are features it can't handle,but I sure can't think of any. It does everything I want and more.
  • ViewRanger is extremely stable. Perfect tracking, no crashes, no loss of data.
  • Regularupdates. The creators are obviously dedicated to the app. Noabandon-ware here - new features and updates come regularly.


Summary Cons:

  • Thefocus so far seems to have been on capability. That's a good thing! Theuser interface could use a little bit of an update, however. It "feels"a bit 2009.
  • Discoverability.Personally, I like that every time I use it I find out a new featureit's capable of, but that might not be the case for some. VERY powerfulfeatures are often buried or hidden unless the user knows where to dig.


Mythanks to BackpackGearTest.organd ViewRanger for the opportunity to test these mapping applications!



Read more reviews of ViewRanger gear
Read more gear reviews by Curt Peterson
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Trent Wehner

Last Updated: 03/10/2023

Views: 6409

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (76 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Trent Wehner

Birthday: 1993-03-14

Address: 872 Kevin Squares, New Codyville, AK 01785-0416

Phone: +18698800304764

Job: Senior Farming Developer

Hobby: Paintball, Calligraphy, Hunting, Flying disc, Lapidary, Rafting, Inline skating

Introduction: My name is Trent Wehner, I am a talented, brainy, zealous, light, funny, gleaming, attractive person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.